Jewish Journal

It’s a bird! It’s a plane. No, it’s a Jew!

by Brad A. Greenberg

September 22, 2008 | 2:55 pm

The Jewish Journal’s cover story this week is about Rabbi David Wolpe’s new book, “Why Faith Matters,” which takes on the New Atheists.

“It’s not only written for those who doubt,” Wolpe told Tom Teicholz, “but to settle the souls of people who believe.”

The article was teased with cover art that showed an unidentified man stepping off a cliff in a bold base jump, and it got Luke Ford wondering whether that was The Journal’s editor, Rob Eshman, “taking the ultimate leap of faith.”

Rob’s response to Luke led me to a fascinating story. First, his reply:

“That’s me being pushed off a cliff by another angry letter writer. Fortunately I had my parachute on. I always wear it immediately after the paper comes out…It’s a photo service photo of a base jumper. I doubt he’s Jewish, but who knows. One of the top sky divers in the world is a nice Jewish boy from Cleveland.”

My former editor at the LA Daily News, Ron Kaye, was a nice Jewish boy and from Cleveland, but I don’t think Rob was talking about Ron. And, indeed, I was correct. Rob was speaking of Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, who he jumped with back in 2005. (That’s Rob on the left and Dan B.C. on the right.)

Not that I wasn’t already a big fan of Rob’s, but this knowledge definitely provides added value. A portion of Rob’s death-defying column is after the jump:

That Dan B.C. is Jewish has to be counterintuitive. Take away the short, illustrious history of Israeli combat paratroopers, and you won’t find many Jews jumping out of airplanes. History has taught us that danger will find us soon enough without our having to chase it.

“My parents,” he told me as we walked toward the small, waiting airplane, “yeah, they probably prefer I did something else.”

Family lore has it that Brodsky-Chenfeld, who is 43, was jumping off his bunk bed as a 5-year-old growing up in Columbus, Ohio, using his pillowcase as a parachute. He got his first real opportunity at 18, at Ohio State University, and he was hooked. Soon he was running a nearby drop zone, working his way up the ranks of divers in the nascent sport of skydiving. ...

On April 22, 1992, Brodsky-Chenfeld and 22 other skydivers climbed into a de Havilland Twin Otter at Perris Valley, ready for another round of practice. At 700 feet, water in the fuel supply stalled the engine and the plane plummeted nose first into the ground. The pilot and 15 skydivers died—one of the worst aircraft accidents in skydiving history.

Brodsky-Chenfeld was pulled from the wreckage. He suffered a broken neck, a collapsed lung, numerous broken bones and internal injuries. His close friend James Layne, sitting across from him in the airplane, died instantly.

Brodsky-Chenfeld spent six weeks in a coma, and has no recollection of the crash.

In the hospital he’d lost 40 pounds, and wore a halo screwed into his skull to limit his movements while his broken back tried to heal. A wrong move or a fall could have paralyzed him for life, let alone jumping again out of an airplane.

“There was never any doubt in my mind that if I could physically do it, I would,” he said. “It’s the job I love.”

Just months later, Brodsky-Chenfeld, still in a neck brace, began competing. His team, Arizona Airspeed, took the bronze in the November 1992 Nationals. In 1995, Airspeed beat its trans-Atlantic archrivals, the French Excaliburs, to win an international gold medal.

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